Saturday, July 14, 2007

Thinking about Year12 writing

I am thinking about a plan for teaching the Year 12 Craft of Writing SAC (School Assessed Coursework) where students are required to write a piece that is between 800 to 1000 words either informing or persuading a writer-nominated audience on any topic the student chooses. There is to be a prompt given just before the task which is designed to ensure that the student crafts a piece of original writing in class time and under teacher supervision. This is the next thing to be assessed. Even though the assessment is worth less than 10% of the students’ overall final mark, there is still a lot of stress involved. This comes from the fact that it is seen as part of the high stakes final year of schooling and, as such, is seen as largely artificial writing. The students see themselves as needing to be taught this unfamiliar style of writing.

And yet I see this form of communication as an essential skill in order to be a person of influence and agency in our society. In order to express our opinion or persuade anyone we need to take into account the reader or listener’s views, where they are at, to think of images and metaphors or “frames” that would appeal to them, to think of what aspects of our readers or listeners can be appealed to: their better nature, their sense of justice, or even an appeal to self interest. The thing is that students are doing, and being exposed to, this kind of communication all the time. And yet it still seems to them to be something weird, strange, unfamiliar. So it is my job to the show them that it isn’t.

Of course communicating in writing is different from speech. It is the fact of an unseen (adult) audience that makes it so weird. If they could imagine a person representing their audience it would no doubt be more real to these 17 – 18 year olds. And thus I will start this term with the “statement of intention” which is a mandatory part of this assessment. The students need to articulate for whom they have written, what might be their concerns and how they have been addressed, where their audience might have read the piece, which newspaper, magazine, or the like has published their piece. I have corrected and thoroughly annotated a practice piece the students wrote just before the holidays, and now I would like them to write a statement of intention for their piece incorporating a prompt such as “a serious concern is…”, or “If only they would…” or “The problem is…”.

Having looked at the annotations and thought seriously about audience and purpose, they will either write how they would improve the piece or rewrite it. The problem with some of the students is that they chose a topic they didn’t really feel concern about, not realising that if they were bored writing it, then a reader would hardly be any more engaged. And of course there are the few that didn’t manage to hand in the writing on the last day. Their job on the first day back will be to write me a piece persuading me as to why they didn’t need to write a practice piece or why I should forgive them for not doing it. They need to think about the best way to approach their audience, whether to use humour or logical reasoning or maybe sincerity and then we will discuss this at a lunchtime meeting in class.

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